Listen to Sumter Emergency Weather outbreaks on your phone with free App.
By Cuba Chief Reid Vaughan
During times of severe weather residents of Sumter County have a limited amount of information coming from media sources due to location and the availability of weather information from television and media sources. The area is also in the extended coverage range of all the National Weather Service Radars. NWS forecasters are not able to see the lowest levels of the atmosphere over most of the county due to the limitations of equipment. There are sources of information that residents should have ready in the event that severe weather strikes.
All smartphones will have the Wireless Emergency Alert function active for Tornado Warnings and other critical weather warnings. It is also a great idea to purchase a NOAA Weather radio, and have it programmed at the store for Sumter County (If that is not possible the programming is not difficult and the information can be obtained from the National Weather Service website). The NWS broadcasts all severe weather information for Sumter County on a radio tower just over the river in Marengo County.
Lastly, there is an application that residents can download and monitor Sumter County Responders that are working during severe weather events to keep the community safe. The program is called Zello and it is a free application that is available to all smart phones. Residents can scan the QR code that is shown below and join the channel as a listener.
During the severe weather incident in March (2021), residents were monitoring the channel and provided key information through social media that we were able to get to the National Weather Service to improve the warnings and the forecast for storms over the area. While the Sumter County area may not have the best in weather coverage in the TV and radio market, the men and women that serve and protect Sumter County make up for that shortfall by being on guard and providing a method for citizens to know about and interact with emergency responders during a severe weather event.
The Zello product has been very successful with first responders, but Sumter County has a success story of using it during the March 2021 tornado outbreaks. With the large number of residents that were listening to the radio traffic live that day the request for any unit that had a visual on a storm coming out of Choctaw County that likely had a tornado on the ground was answered through two social media posts that had video of the tornado on the ground headed in the direction of the Whitfield area.
This information was quickly relayed to the NWS using the Slack Chat platform and enhanced the warning. On the same day there was a request for any unit that could give the hail size that was falling near the Coatopa Community and that was answered by another county resident with a video and several other residents sent in still pictures. This type of data is critical to the NWS and the public safety community in making sure that the warnings regarding weather have evidence that can be shown to the public and to provide the best warnings possible.